Bears great Devin Hester misses Hall call for second straight year

Hester, who played for the Bears from 2006-13, was not one of the five modern-era players picked to receive a gold jacket in August in Canton, Ohio.

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Former Bears returner Devin Hester scores a touchdown in 2010.

Former Bears returner Devin Hester scores a touchdown in 2010.

Nam Y. Huh/AP

PHOENIX — Devin Hester, the greatest returner that anyone has ever seen, still isn’t a Pro Football Hall of Famer.

The NFL’s all-time leader with 20 return touchdowns, Hester inspired a generation of Bears fans to stop timing their bathroom breaks for kickoffs and punts. As “Crank That” by Soulja Boy blared on the Soldier Field loudspeaker, teammates learned not to miss the show, either. They stood up on the sideline every time the ball hung in the air and eventually sank into Hester’s arms.

Yet for the second consecutive year, Hester, who played for the Bears from 2006-13, was not one of the five modern-era players picked to receive a gold jacket in August in Canton, Ohio. The 49-person selection committee, made up of media members who cover each team and at-large voters, instead chose the following modern-era players who were announced Thursday during NFL Honors:

† Former Jets cornerback Darrelle Revis, a seven-time Pro Bowl player who played from 2007-17.

† Former Browns offensive tackle Joe Thomas, who played more than 10,000 consecutive snaps during a career than spanned from 2007-17.

† Former Cowboys and Broncos edge rusher DeMarcus Ware, a nine-time Pro Bowl player who played from 2005-16.

† Former Dolphins linebacker Zach Thomas, a five-time All-Pro whose career ran from 1996-2009.

† Former Buccaneers cornerback Ronde Barber, a three-time All-Pro who played from 1997-2012.

Chuck Howley, Joe Klecko and Ken Riley were nominated by the Seniors Committee and put into the Hall. Former Chargers coach Don Coryell, whose offensive scheme was the precursor for some of the sport’s most dangerous passing attacks, was voted in as a coach/contributor after being a finalist in six of the last 13 years.

Hester, though, must wait another year. As word of him missing out circulated around the Phoenix Convention Center earlier Thursday, the only conclusion to draw was that the decision had nothing to do with Hester — what more, exactly, could he have done? — but instead with special teams. For as often as coaches pontificate to players and fans alike about the value of the “third phase,” it’s rarely received the respect of offense or defense.

Hester would have been the first player known specifically for his returns to be voted into the Hall. Only three special-teamers are in the Hall — kickers Jan Stenerud and Morten Anderson and punter Ray Guy. Guy didn’t get until he was a senior candidate. 

Hall of Famer Brian Urlacher was one of the Bears players that would stand to watch Hester return kicks instead of gathering with his teammates on the bench.

“I didn’t sit down,” he told the Sun-Times on Thursday. “No one sat down. Every time we’d give up a field goal or touchdown, I’d be like, ‘Damn it, I’m mad, but I gotta watch this return.’ ”

Another former teammate, Charles Tillman, said it was simple to explain what made Hester so great.

“Everything,” he said. “His ability to read blocks. His speed, quickness. His vision. That’s what made him great. Everything.”

Someday, that greatness will be recognized by the Hall. Being one of 15 finalists means he’s on the right track. But we said that last year, too.

Hester has been frustrated by not being selected by the Hall the last two years. His friends have told him to be patient, something he did so well when hunting down return lanes.

“Eventually, yeah, he’s gonna get in,” Urlacher said. “There’s no doubt what he did. No one’s ever going to duplicate what he did.”

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